Dinner and a laugh with Stranger Than Fiction

Comedy improv group Stranger Than Fiction.

Photo by Courtney Hoppe

You'd be hard pressed to find a summertime destination that outnumbers Portsmouth in bars, restaurants, shops and live music options. Even on a rainy Tuesday night I found myself tempted by a variety of shiny objects - the shiniest of which was seeing the Stranger Than Fiction improv troupe at the Player's Ring Theater, an unassuming brick building in Prescott Park.

But first, my date and I landed at Radici Restaurant on Congress Street, the redheaded stepsister of Jumpin' Jay's Fish Café, for their outstanding happy hour. From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. each weekday, Radici features beer, wine and cocktail specials, plus a chosen few appetizers, on deep discount. After a couple of 142s, which pack a powerful yet fruity punch of vodka, triple sec, prosecco, Grand Marnier and orange juice, we weaved our way past the Hilton Garden Inn to find the Blue Mermaid Island Grill, a Rachel Ray favorite as indicated by their signage.

Situated in a two-story house with a deck out back, the Blue Mermaid's nautical love shack vibe provides a bit of residential flair to the teeteringly commercial Portmouth. Although Jumpin' Jay's has been my favorite seafood restaurant in NH since relocating from NY seven years ago, the Blue Mermaid is clearly giving Jumpin's a run for their money with a similar choose-your-fish-and-sauce approach but outdoing them in their side offerings. The scallops with blueberry bourbon sauce/grilled banana/sweet potato hash concoction I ordered was one of the most delicious meals I've ever had. And the Fire & Ice Margarita, made with jalapeno-infused tequila, was the perfect complement to the sweetness of my meal.

Running short on time from taking the extra few minutes to lick our plates clean, we sprinted over to the Player's Ring. I have to tell you: for little more than the cost of a movie ticket, you can see one of the best kept secrets in NH. This improv troupe, comprised of Salem High School teachers, an astronaut hopeful and super cool nerds, is truly gifted in the art of situational humor. I giggled myself silly to Wellington's "but everyone loves boxes!" line (I guess you had to be there) and even volunteered to scandalously puppeteer one of the performers in one skit.

After the show, I had the good fortune to hang out with one of the troupe's few female performers (and makeshift publicist), Jillian Thiele, at the Coat of Arms, a dingy British pub with an impressive selection of drafts. Over Strongbows and Hoegaardens, I learned the difference between long and short form improv and how, despite my skeptical nature, they really are flying off the cuff of silliness at all times. With work looming the next day and the hour creeping near 11 p.m., there was no time for dessert in town. But considering that my stomach still hurt from laughing, this worked out just fine.

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